It’s been about a month since the college basketball season kicked off, and we’re already getting some strong indications what teams, and better yet, what players are separating themselves from the pack. Some marquee teams heading into the season may have suffered some unexpected losses already, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players who are still putting in work night-in and night-out, and giving signs that they’ll have their teams in competitive form come conference play.
Not to take anything away from smaller conference standouts like San Jose State’s James Kinney, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, but if the season were to end today, I think some bigger conference players would be getting more attention for post-season awards. With that said, if I had to pick my 2012-13 First Team All-Americans, I wouldn’t look outside of the Big 6 conferences.
Warning, some of the players on this list may not be there when we revisit the season three months from now – looking at you Erick Green, non conference play’s fun huh Virginia Tech? – but there are some players who are dominating the early season and putting their teams on their back. The players who I’m selecting exemplify leadership, excellence, and progress on the basketball court.
There have been a lot of new names to learn this season, but this list is made up primarily of names you should’ve known from last season, and some guys who were absolutely expected to breakout, and have met, if not exceeded, the expectations.
Without further ado, here’s our early season All-American Team.
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
While the Kentucky Wildcats have been disappointing to start of the 2012-13 season considering they won a championship just months ago, their freshmen have shown the potential to bring John Calipari back to the top of the college hoops world. As good as Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress have been up front of the ‘Cats, it’s been combo guard Archie Goodwin who has emerged as the team’s leader, and best player.
Goodwin came to Lexington expected to log more minutes on the wing as the teams off-guard, but with sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow missing games early on, Goodwin stepped up and became the team’s best scorer and facilitator. Goodwin already has a pro body, and when he slows down, has the mentality and awareness to really be able to play the game at a high level.
Through the first nine games of the season, Goodwin is averaging 16.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and is shooting a super efficient 54 percent from three. The only major critique on Goodwin is he feels the pressure to force his game sometimes when his other, unexperienced teammates are struggling to score, and he’s shot his team in the foot several times this season with untimely turnovers and fouls.
Criticism aside, Goodwin has been a total stud for Kentucky, and seeing how Calipari molds guards to play at the next level, you’ll be hearing about this kid for some time to come.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
One of the higher recruits/bigger let downs of the 2011-2012 season, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams has shown that sometimes it takes a year to learn and blossom. After averaging about 10 minutes per game as a freshman, Carter-Williams is averaging over 31 minutes per this season, and has made the most of those minutes playing both guard spots for the Orange.
I don’t mean to sell Carter-Williams point guard skills short, because right now he’s looking like one of, if not the best in the country, but standing at 6-foot-6 and being smoother than Arthur Fonzarelli, the second-year guard can get any shot he wants. Averaging 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, Carter-Williams is leading the nation in assists, by almost two full assists per game, and scoring incredibly efficient.
As much enjoyment as Carter-Williams has given coach Jim Boeheim on the offensive end, he’s also quite the defender, using his length to rack up 3.8 assists and a block per game on the early season.
Carter-Williams has brought back the saying good things are worth waiting for, which may end up being applicable to his team’s decade long draught (yeah, it’s a short draught) from reaching the Final Four.
Jeff Withey, Kansas
Kansas may have lost a lot of their best players from last year, especially Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, but they still managed to boast a starting lineup with four seniors, none of whom have been more impressive than big-man Jeff Withey.
Withey showed his shot-blocking prominence last season, averaging a spectacular 3.6 blocks per game, but has only improved in that category, leading the nation with 5.6 blocks per game! Standing at seven feet tall, Withey has accompanied his great blocking numbers with 13.8 points and 8 rebounds per game, and has been one of the Jayhawks most efficient players. Withey isn’t ever the focus of the offense, but shooting 58 percent from the field, he’s shown absolute dominance in the post on both ends of the floor.
Bill Self’s team is a great combination of athleticism, experience, and talent, and with Withey anchoring the team better than just about any big man in the country on both ends, they’ll be a force to reckon with through late March.
Erick Green, Virgina Tech
While 7-1 Virginia Tech has been one of the best stories of the early season, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re being led by one of the best guards in the country in Erick Green. The 6-foot-3 combo guard led the Hokies in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes last season, and is doing that and more for a team that’s outperformed expectations.
Green is currently the nation’s second leading scorer, averaging 24.6 points, to go along with 5.1 assists and 4 rebounds per game. Not only has Green scored 20 or more points in each of VT’s first 8 games, but he’s done so shooting 50 percent from the field, while going 38 percent from three and 89 percent from the free-throw line.
This is a very inexperienced Virginia Tech team, even head coach James Johnson is in his first year with the program, but with Green as the only senior who sees the floor, they’re in great hands in a season where expectations are minimal from everyone outside of Blacksburg.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
The golden goose playing on the golden team. As long as Indiana remains at the top of the rankings, which looks like it could be a while, Cody Zeller’s name will be in all postseason award conversations.
Zeller hasn’t been the type of player who carries his team for 40 minutes a night, but he’s made himself known as the guy who comes to the rescue in big moments, and isn’t afraid of doing whatever his team needs of him on a nightly basis. With so much talent around him, Zeller’s averaging 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, and is shooting an incredible 63 percent from the field.
Although his Hoosiers haven’t really played in many close games, it was encouraging to see Zeller post 17 points and 8 rebounds in a gritty overtime win over tough Georgetown, as well as to see him give James Michael McAdoo and North Carolina 20 points and 8 rebounds in a blow out win.
There doesn’t seem to be a moment too big for Zeller, and I’d expect to see him go into beast mode when his team needs him to down the stretch this season.
Mason Plumlee, Duke
The only reason Duke isn’t ranked number one in the nation is because Indiana hasn’t lost a game yet. How else do you rationalize a team having wins over the numbers two, three, and four teams in the country and not being the top ranked team?
Forget why they’re not number one, here’s why they should be: Mason Plumlee. The senior big has been knocking on the door of excellence every year since arriving in Durham, and seems to have really found himself this year. Averaging career highs in points (19.2), rebounds (11.3), blocks (1.7) and field goal percentage (61 percent), Plumlee is hands down the best player on one of the best teams in the nation, which is something he’s thrived on.
Plumlee’s been impressive against everyone, but has had his best games of the season particularly against then ranked Minnesota (20 points, 17 rebounds) and number-four Ohio State (21 points, 17 rebounds), not to mention schooling freshman sensation Nerlens Noel and Kentucky going an efficient 7-for-8 from the field for 18 points.
Plumlee was a part of the 2010 championship team, and with a well-rounded roster next to him, will be looking for his second championship, and some postseason accolades by early April.
For hoops, hip-hop and other random sports and pop culture commentary, follow Jared Mintz on Twitter @JaredMintzTruth